Usually, when people talk or write about the TOEFL, they just say “TOEFL.” Only sometimes do you hear or see the full name of the test: TOEFL iBT.
But the truth is that there are three different types of TOEFL tests. Well, there were three types:
- iBT: Internet-Based Test
- PBT: Paper-Based Test
- CBT: Computer-Based Test
Looking at that list, you might imagine that the “internet-based test” and the “computer-based test” would be pretty similar. After all, they’re both taken on a computer. It would be logical for the paper-based test to be a bit different, of course.
But the truth is that the CBT is closer to the PBT. It’s actually not very similar at all to the iBT. Well, I should say that the CBT was closer to the PBT. It actually doesn’t exist anymore: the company that makes the TOEFL stopped giving the CBT in 2006. Now there are only two versions of the test.
Although that test is gone, you can still find books for the CBT. And if you’re just starting to study for the test and looking for TOEFL resources, you might want to use those CBT books because they are cheaper or more available where you live.
But you should not use a CBT book to study for the iBT
The iBT is a unique test that follows very strict rules. If you are studying for the iBT, one of the things you will want to learn is those rules. For example, the fifth speaking task on every iBT is about a conversation that you hear. In that conversation, two students will talk about one student’s problem. They will talk about two possible solutions to the problem. Your job, when taking the test, is to explain the problem and the solutions, then give your opinion about which solution is better—and you have to do all that in less than one minute. Learning to answer that question well takes practice, but you can’t practice it with a CBT book.
That’s because the CBT didn’t have a speaking section. None! Compare that to the iBT, which is 25% speaking. And many schools value the speaking score the most, too—it’s a very important part of the test.
There are other differences, too:
- The CBT included a grammar section; the iBT doesn’t.
- CBT recordings (in the listening section) and texts (in the reading section) were shorter than those in the iBT.
- The CBT only had one essay; the iBT has two different types.
Many of these differences are also true between the PBT and the iBT, by the way.
And there are even more differences, but even that short list should make one thing clear: if you’re going to take the iBT, and you’re looking for the best TOEFL books, you absolutely cannot use any book or website that talks about the CBT. Those are completely out of date. You absolutely must use TOEFL iBT material if you want to properly study the test, and not just general English.